Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just who is who in Esther's times?

Were you as lost in history as I was during the lesson on the rebuilding of the temple? I had all sorts of notes in my scriptures placed there over the years and I still couldn’t unravel the chronology.

I let it nag at me for a few days then I headed to the internet and began to hit my favorite, reputable sites to find out just where all those puzzle pieces fit.

Now, what I found out is that, at times, no one really knows for sure who’s who. There are almost as many ‘ideas’ of who’s who as there are scholars. I’m glad the confusion is not just mine!!

I also found it interesting that in this very lesson, the people who could not prove who they were, were excluded from helping rebuild the temple. Accurate records, especially in genealogy, are so important!

Out of all the research I did, this information showed up the most so, here it is.

Cyrus came to power. It was his policy to free the slaves in the land he conquered and so he released the Jews and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Of course, many didn’t want to go by then and stayed behind. That’s pretty straight forward and easy to follow but now it gets a bit convoluted.

Some scholars believe that Cyrus was also known as Darius the Mede (I'll call him Darius the Mede/Darius I). Other scholars believe the Darius the Mede and Cyrus were two different people. Whoever they were, at some point Darius the Mede/Darius I co-ruled Persia with the help of Xerxes. (I’ll call him Xerxes I.)

When Darius the Mede/Darius I died, Xerxes I ruled alone until his ‘death’. Some scholars believe that, in order to keep the throne with Darius dead and his own reputation slipping Xerxes I faked his own death.

Word of the 'death' of Xerxes I reached his son, Ahasuerus I, who was leading the army in Egypt. As heir to the throne and now unofficial king, Ahasuerus I headed back for Persia to be officially crowned yet, before he arrived, two things happened: someone showed up claiming to be the king's son and took the throne; and Ahasuerus I died before he made it back to Persia and could get rid of the imposter.

The imposter called himself Artaxerxes I. Some scholars believe it was really Xerxes I showing up pretending to be his own son. To gain the favor of the citizens, this questionable king repealed all taxes for three years (that always gets lots of support from short-sighted citizens). He also halted the building of the temple when he got the letter mentioned in Ezra 4.

With the king's real son dead, Darius II led much of the army and knew Artaxerxes I was not who he said he was. With the support of the armies, Darius II captured Artaxerxes I and killed him, thus claiming the throne for himself.

During the next two years, Darius II repelled the attacks of nine kings and established peace in the kingdom. He also learned of the decree of Cyrus to let the Jews rebuild the temple (Ezra 5). Darius II renewed that decree (Ezra 6).

When Darius II died, Xerxes II took the throne. He is better known as Ahasuerus I. This is the same Ahasuerus I who married Esther. Of course, his antics are well known. During his time on the throne, he halted the building of the temple and harassed the Jews. The role his wife, Esther, played in halting Haman’s plans to destroy the Jews saved the life of a Jew named Nehemiah. Just a few short years later, Nehemiah would become pivotal in rebuilding the temple.

Upon the death of Esther’s husband his son, Artaxerxes II, took the throne. Artaxerxes II had a cupbearer named Nehemiah served. When Nehemiah asked to go help with the rebuilding, Artaxerxes II allowed him to go and sent him the aid he needed. Nehemiah was able to accomplish in 52 days what had been unfinished for years.

As I mentioned, there are scholarly conflicts over who’s who during this time; but this information seemed to be the most common. The lesson here isn’t who’s who; but what can happen (as the lesson pointed out) when accurate records are not kept and preserved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going to Church on Sunday

Last week a young mother, who is trying to return to Church activity, left church early because she worried her young children were being too disruptive. It caused me, and all the mothers at church, to remember our same struggles with young children. We all know her feelings. It also caused me to remember a very specific event that took place several years.

When my husband was called into the bishopric I found myself sitting on the bench alone, wrestling--sometimes literally--with three young toddlers and newborn. I remember at times having to take out the newborn and praying that my three children would sit quietly until I got back and not destroy the chapel or the Sacrament meeting.

I also remember sharing some of those foyer moments with another young mother of four who also found herself alone at church when work took her husband out of town ever other weekend. One Sunday she came out of the meeting, with two of her children in tow, exasperation written on every feature of her face. The other two children had been left behind on the bench.

“I don’t know why I even bother to come," she growled to me. "I never hear a word from the meeting!”

Having growled those exact words to my husband, I absolutely understood her frustration. It was then the Lord guided my response…a thought I had never had until I spoke to her.

“Even when you don’t feel like you are getting anything out of the meeting," I said, "you’re still doing the right thing by coming each Sunday because it is teaching your children the habit of attending. It is showing them it is important to be here every Sunday, week after week.”

My words gave me much needed strength and understanding and I realized one of my jobs, besides testifying of the gospel, is to also teach my children the habit of correct principles, including Sunday attendance. That knowledge helped me on those Sundays when the Spirit seemed very far from our chaotic pew.

Over the months, though, my friend didn't find the strength and understanding she needed and she slowly quit attending regularly, coming only on the Sunday's her husband could attend. Then, when a move took her family to another part of the state she quit going to Church altogether. It was too difficult with little children.

Since that time my friend and her husband have gone completely inactive. Over time they started to break the commandments—drinking, then smoking. Eventually infidelity on both their parts led to the dissolution of their temple marriage and then divorce. My friend is now waiting tables in a bar at night, raising the children alone. Only the oldest two had been baptized but are inactive, The younger two have never been baptized and don’t know anything about the Savior or His gospel. There are financial problems, of course; as well as problems at school and with the law—some minor, some major including drug addiction and drug dealing--some by my friend, herself.

Her situation has made me grateful for my own. Though my children are not perfect and one of my teenagers is deeply struggling with his testimony right now, we do have one son on a mission, all my children go to church each Sunday, and my teenagers attend seminary every morning—even the one who is struggling. So far none of my children have gotten in trouble at school or with the law. They truly are good people who still find comfort in the habits they formed early in life.

We cannot underestimate the importance of being there every week, even when it is hard or frustrating. How I wish my friend had kept going to church. It seems to me that the two very different paths our lives took made its first turn when my friend decided it was easier to stay home rather than wrestle her children at church. Unfortunately, that decision made years ago has made her life more difficult, not easier.

During this past week the sisters in our branch have contacted this young mother and told her repeatedly how much we love having her and her children there. How grateful I was to see her return to Church this Sunday with her children. I know she is making the right choice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Football miracle

This is a difficult blog to write. You may remember me blogging about football and the passion my son has for the sport. I have also written about those frightening hits in football that everyone hears.

My son was involved in one of those frightening hits during football camp. It was the kind of hit that causes the coaches on both sides of the line to feel their stomachs lurch and send them all running onto the field even before the players have climbed back to their feet.

But my son didn’t get back on his feet.

He lay on the field, his limbs convulsing spontaneously—the sign of severe spinal trauma. Though he remained conscious, he was unable to feel anything below his neck. He later told me it was the most frightening two or three minutes he has ever experienced.

When feeling did return to his limbs he knew one of his coaches was kneeling beside him, tightly holding his hand. “Mom, Coach Bryan never let go of my hand the rest of the time,” he said. "He stayed right there with me the whole time."

And they took time with him.

Finally, after taking all the precautions--including immobilizing his neck--the trainers and emergency staff decided he had experienced a severe back spasm. It was a hot day and my son has had leg cramps before. They iced his back and my son asked to go back into the game. He pestered. He said he was fine, just a bit sore. Reluctant, the coaches finally agreed.

My son finished that game as their running back and defensive end. An hour later he played, both ways, for a second full game.

In his positions he was a constant target. Each tackle, he told me, brought him excruciating pain. Even his head hurt with every step.

In one touchdown run, pain kept him from diving over the goal line and he was brought down one yard short. At any other time he would have made those final three feet but he told me later “it hurt too much Mom. I couldn’t do it.” He felt bad, genuinely hurt, that he'd let his teammates down.

No one knew he was playing with his back broken in two places.

When I picked up my son after the camp I knew instantly something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes. They were a different color.

We took him into the doctor and discovered the broken vertebrae and the dislocated neck.

The doctor told him he was lucky. He could have been paralyzed at any time. He was amazed my son had kept playing--even more amazed he had gotten up and walked away from each subsequent tackle.

Later, a back specialist confirmed what the first doctor told us. Then he said, “you need to realize how serious this injury is. If anything had been even a fraction of an inch different, you’d be in a wheelchair right now and you’d be there for the rest of your life.”

My son--who is so passionate about the game that he played football for two hours with a broken back--wept uncontrollably...not because of the possibilities but because of the reality. His football career was over. And I wept right along with him. There is deep, deep pain in seeing something taken from your child that means so much to him!

At some point, when the doctors left us alone, I told him, "Even though you don't feel like this is a blessing right now, you need to realize that the Lord truly protected you during that accident and has blessed you in every single step you've taken since."

Then I made a call to my husband who was out of town. He, too, was devasated--made worse by the distance and his inability to get back to us.

Though he couldn’t be there that night, he fulfilled his role as husband and father perfectly. He called a close friend and asked him to give our son a priesthood blessing that night.

The friend did--changing his schedule to help us through our crisis.

The blessing was the most amazing experience I and my son have ever had. Promises were made that astounded all of us, even our friend. The Spirit was tremendously strong...and with it came understanding and courage to move forward. And hope for my son's future.

Tonight my son is going to his team’s preseason scrimmage game. He will be on the sidelines, encouraging his teammates while wearing a back brace. But he will be standing and walking that sideline, something the doctors say is a miracle.

Because of the gift of the priesthood, we know that many more miracles are still ahead of him. I am anxious to see the 'other' miracles my son will experience in his life.

<--My son breaking tackles and heading for the goal line. His determination on the field follows him off the field, too.

Watching from the sidelines. He was never content to sit there long and, even with a broken back, he still isn't content to sit there. He now goes to every practice and helps with the coaching. His teammates have commented how much they appreciate having him there with them. -->

<-- Ready to face whatever is coming. Though his senior year dreams have suddenly changed, he's still ready to face whatever is coming.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A lesson from the earth.

Lately I’ve been enjoying some conversations about science and religion with Church members who are involved in various scientific fields and endeavors. Like them, I believe religion and science are more closely connected than we now know; and I disagree with scientists who say you can’t believe in God if you want to accept science. Phooey. (Those who claim that are probably too closed minded to even be in the scientific field. We all know any scientist worth his salt would never throw out any possibility.)

The other day, as I was doing some scientific and doctrinal research into the history of the world and its future, I made a startling, yet comforting realization.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know that when God created the earth it was in a paradisiacal or terrestial state. Not fully glorified, but pretty close. Then Adam fell and that affected everything. (We also know that no choice affects you and you alone.) At that time the earth also ‘fell’ and became the telestial world we now know.

So here we all are: telestial bodies living on a telestial world.

Latter-day Saints also understand that when Christ comes again the world will “be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (See 10th Article of Faith.) Again, not fully glorified, but pretty close. During that time men on earth, under the direction of the Savior, will work hard to burn the leftovers of war, beat their swords into plows and restore the earth to its Edenic state. It will take time, years, to restore what was lost and fix the damage done.

Then, following this millennium of time, peace and work--and after a final test of conviction to the Lord--the earth will then pass away “and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.” This ‘new earth’ shall be our earth in its glorified “sanctified, immortal and eternal state.” (See Revelations 4, D&C 29:22-24 and D&C 77.)

Can you see a familiar pattern there? The earth existed in God’s presence--not yet glorified but pretty good. It fell and left His presence, becoming a telestial sphere. Christ will return to the earth to help restore the earth to a higher state—not yet glorified but pretty good. Then, when all things are ready, the earth will finally be glorified.

It has taken, and will continue to take, quite a bit of time to get the earth glorified. In fact, you could say the creation of the earth still is not complete. It’s an ongoing process.

Now, people quibble over the age of the earth depending on whether they view the earth scientifically or Biblically. (And even those who believe in the Bible quarrel about the length of the creative period: was it six literal days or six figurative days?)

But the age of the earth really doesn’t matter. What matters is the lesson we learn from the earth and the hope it can give us. However you look at it, the earth has been in existence for a tad bit longer than my 48 years and it still is not glorified! It is still a work in progress.

Now, if the earth has been given that much time and even promised the personal help of the Savior to get it sanctified and ready to meet God, doesn’t the same truth apply to you and me? The worth of souls in great in the eyes of the Lord. We are His greatest creation! His entire work is directed at helping us become glorified; and He obviously plans for it to take a bit longer than 48 years.


We don’t have to be perfect now. Our children and spouses don’t have to be perfect now. Neither do our neighbors. We just need to keep heading in that direction and appreciate the pattern He lovingly and quietly shared with us when He placed us on this wonderful, very long-term, work in progress we call Earth. The Earth is our testimony of hope.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The problem with answering roughly

A great lesson for anyone in a position of leadership and guidance is found in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam, son of Solomon, is the new king of Israel. Jeroboam, a leader from the tribe of Ephraim, joined other representatives from the other tribes of Israel and came to the new king, seeking an ease to their burdens. Solomon’s heavy building program and military requirements had taxed the people greatly both in time and monetary possessions.

The king listened to their grievances and told them to come back in three days for an answer.

During that time, “king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?”

“And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.”

Such wise words! If you want people to love you and follow you and be loyal to you—serve them, address and answer their needs, encourage and praise them with your words.

But Rehoboam didn’t like the counsel (it took too much effort on his part) so he went to his buddies, “The young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:

"And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?

“And the young men…spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people…My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

“And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”

Now, maybe his buddies justified the response by claiming if you give someone an inch they will take a mile. If you let them change your mind on one issue, they will be clamoring for you to change your mind on every issue. It could have been a classic fear-the-foot-in-the-door warning. They may have even told Rehoboam his kingdom was as stake, that this request meant a rebellion was brewing.

So, the king took their advice and “answered the people roughly.”

Well, he got his rebellion--because he started it. From that point on the family of Israel was divided.

Now let's fast-forward to our time. What do you do when your teenage son comes to you and says he’s tired of mowing the lawn every week; that he always has to do it? Do you sit down with him and say, yes, you have been mowing it every week for several years, what can I do to help make it easier? Or, do you answer him roughly, say it’s his responsibility and if he complains more about it you will make him weed the garden, too?

What about when your daughter comes and says she doesn’t have time to do the dishes tonight because she has to be to volleyball practice. Do you say she should have thought of that sooner and started her dishes earlier? Or, do you say let me go help you and we’ll try to get as much done together before you go?

What about with your spouse? If something they are doing, or not doing, is hurtful or disappointing, do you honestly think speaking roughly to them is the way to win their loyalty, get them to change, and improve your marriage?

Family life is no different now than in Rehoboam's time. While no family is perfect, more families should follow the first advice. We are here to serve one another, address and answer the needs of our children and our partners, to encourage and praise them with our words. Then we will have the love and loyalty in our families that will bind us together forever.

Sadly, however, I feel too many families follow the path of Rehoboam and answer each other roughly.

Remember the Savior’s words: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt 23:11)

Isaiah spoke Messianically of this service in Isaiah 61:1-3. “The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings…bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to the captive…(open) the prison to them that are bound…give unto them beauty for ashes…praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

If we are to be like Christ and follow His example then we, too, must do the same. We must preach good tidings, not speak roughly. We must repair broken hearts and, when family members are held captive by the demands of life, we are to help them find more liberty, even go to work and open the prisons doors that stand in their way. We are called give them beauty and hope when their life is full of ashes, and encourage them with honest praise when they are burdened under the spirit of heaviness.

Then we are promised, in Isaiah 61: 4, the waste places will be built up, the former desolations will be repaired.

Our families will be built up and our relationships will be repaired. They will be ours forever...because they will want to be with us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Priesthood blessings

My son did something today I didn’t do until I was much older. He asked an older man, who is not a member of our church, if he would like his son, Brian, to receive a priesthood blessing. The man said yes.

We believe that worthy men can be called and ordained to the receive the priesthood. Christ had the priesthood. He was a high priest in the Melchezidek priesthood. (See Hebrews 5.) He gave this authority to his disciples. That priesthood authority is the power of God to officiate in His name and enact the ordinances of salvation. Another function of the priesthood is to give blessings to the sick, downtrodden and seeking.

A year and a half ago, Brian played on the same football team as two of my sons. One son, in particular, formed a close friendship with Brian. Together they worked to improve as football players year-round. They also went snowmobiling in the winter, floated the creek in the summer, and played video games often. Brian spent a lot of time at our house. He was always polite and fun. When I opened the door and saw him standing on our back step I always had to return his smile. He brightened everything with his fun, quiet nature.

After graduation, Brian received a scholarship to play football at college. He came to our house when he could but we didn’t see him as much as before. I missed him. I also worried about him. So did my son.

We knew Brian had begun drinking. He told my son several times he liked hanging out at our house and around his LDS friends because he didn’t feel he needed to drink to have fun. It was a different kind of fun. It was clean fun. He didn’t have to worry about what he did.

We asked Brian if he wanted to learn more about what we believed. He said, ‘definitely’ but we were slow in our follow-through and one lonely night Brian was involved in a drunk-driving accident. The accident left him in a coma for a month and now he is permanently brain-injured.

Recently, while visiting Brian, my son explained priesthood blessings to Brian’s father. He then asked his father if he would like Brian to receive a priesthood blessing. The man said yes. My son called, excited that we could help Brian and his family in a way no doctor or therapist could.

The call touched my heart. It took courage for my son, who is still in high school, to ask an adult such a question and explain priesthood blessings to him. It also took faith. How grateful I am that my son has faith in the power of the priesthood—faith enough to know that it can bless the lives of others--and faith enough in its importance to share that knowledge with a non-member.

I also feel very strongly the blessing won’t just bless Brian. It will bless my son and all those people who deeply love Brian, both on this side of the veil and the other. Furthermore, I strongly feel that there are those on the other side of the veil who have prayed that someone would offer to give their beloved Brian a priesthood blessing.

Priesthood blessings always touch more lives than one. And that is so appropriate, because Brian has also touched many more lives than one.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The clock is ticking.

My neighbor didn’t see me in the gym this morning and, upon arriving home, discovered the reason. I was in the yard, weeding. We laughed when I explained I’d probably be more sore after weeding than after hitting the treadmill.

The truth is, with limited time I had to make a choice.

Our conversation stayed with me as I dug and pulled at more weeds around the yard. I reflected on the choices we have to make every day and the fact that no one has enough time to accomplish everything on their “to do” list.

That means things will be left undone.

No one has enough money to handle every situation that comes their way. That means there will be financial stress.

No one has enough self-esteem that they don’t feel pain. That means there will be hurt and aching hearts.

The test was never meant to be about what we would do with enough. If so, we would all have enough, and to spare.

The test, then, has always been about what we will do when there is not enough! Will we still choose the Lord?

When time is tight, will we still go to church on Sunday or will we choose to work, recreate, or relax? With limited time, will we choose to read the scriptures each day or pray, or will we choose some other worldly thing to fill our day?

When money is tight, will we still choose to share tithes and offerings with the Lord? Will we choose to send our children on missions or go ourselves? Will we serve others with those funds, or will we spend that money on things for us?

When someone offends us, will we choose to do as the Lord has asked and forgive them, or repent and change if they are right? Or will we choose to brood and sulk, blame others, blame the church, or even blame the Lord?

Each choice truly is ours.

Our love for the Lord isn’t found in a singular decision of devotion that will carry us for the rest of our life. It is announced in each of those daily, quiet moments when we realize we don’t have enough. Will we still choose the Lord?

Especially when we lack, I think the best choice is always the Lord.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The parable and miracle of the goldfish

Our day started out with a death and a trash can burial. A silver-colored goldfish, named Smokey, jumped out of the aquarium at some point in the night and we found him on the floor this morning—stiff and dry. All traces of water on the hardwood floor from his unexpected arrival in our waterless world had long since dried up. Even the floor directly beneath his body was dry.

Four years ago, we purchased Smokey from a tank of mostly dead and sickly feeder goldfish. He cost us 10 cents. We had saved him, along with several others feeder fish that day. Now our rescue fish was dead, lying on the hardwood floor, dark and stiff.

Feeling sorrow for his lonely death, I picked him up by the hard tail fin, carried him into the kitchen and buried him in the trash can. At the breakfast table, my children saw and they, too, expressed sadness at his demise. After all, Smokey had lived for several years, grown to be the second largest in size, and was the only silver goldfish in the group.

During breakfast my children reminisced about Smokey while I started doing dishes. But I keep hearing the Spirit whisper to me. “Don’t give up on him yet. Don’t let him die this way. Give him a chance to live.”

You may recall the Spirit's whispering on behalf of the world's grumpiest cockatiel (see my March blog) Yet this fish was dead. This whispering was after the trauma, not before.

Then I recalled a similar fish incident years ago, when my firstborn child was only two. He decided to go ‘fishing’ in our tank and managed to catch one of the fish. When he proudly told my of his feat I looked in the tank and, sure enough, one fish was missing. I went searching for the fish. After an hour and a half I found him. He had flipped up under the couch and was dry and stiff. As I picked up my son’s ‘catch’ to throw it in the trash can I saw its gill move. Quickly I filled a bowl with water and dropped in the fish. He started breathing and went on to live for several more years.

Now, as I did the dishes, the whispering continued. “Don’t give up on him yet. Don’t let him die like this. Give him a chance to live.”

So, when my children were not looking, I retrieved Smokey from the trash can, filled up a bowl with water from his fish tank and dropped in the fish. By this time he had been in the trash can for 45 minutes and on the floor for much longer (possibly hours) yet, amazingly, he immediately responded and started to breathe.

In the photo below he has been in the bowl for half an hour and is almost completely upright.

I still didn’t tell my children—I didn’t want them to get their hopes up—so I sent them to school and continued to watch Smokey’s recovery. Within an hour he was swimming upright, though rather slowly, and I put him back into the tank.

I then went to the gym to work out. While on the treadmill my heart, and even my prayers, went out to this little fish. I don’t feel guilty praying for animals. I don't feel anyone should. I have come to know in my life that God loves all His creations, even the animals.

As I jogged I realized that Smokey had not jumped out of the tank on purpose. In the guise of ‘having a good time’ Smokey obviously went a bit too far and landed outside the safety of the water. There he found himself alone and needing help. He floundered and fought for life yet could do nothing to save himself until, finally, he succumbed to the consequences of his actions.

And then I thought of those people I know and I saw a gospel parallel. Often, in the guise of ‘having a good time,’ people go a bit too far and land outside the safety of the living water of the gospel. They break the commandments, they don’t feel they need to be in Church, but they are floundering and, soon enough, they will face the full effects of their actions. They can't save themselves. None of us can. That's why we all need Christ yet, if someone isn’t physically there to help those struggling in this life, the consequences can result in spiritual death, the drying up of a testimony and the stiffening of a soul.

We all know and love people like that. Maybe we see them and feel they are, somehow, too far gone to help. We may have even mentally placed them in the trash can of life, claiming they are gone for good.

Yet “Don’t give up on him yet” is powerful advice for all of us! The Lord runs on a different timetable. He doesn't care how long we've lain spiritual dead or even been in the trash can of life. He just wants someone to pull out each precious soul and give them a chance to live. There is no one so far gone, or so long gone that the Savior cannot yet reach them. We just have to keep trying. We should never give up on anyone!

And the Spirit also taught me another truth. By not telling my children that I had placed Smokey back into a bowl of water, I thought I was protecting them from disappointment in case he should die later. What the Spirit told me was that I had cut my children and Smokey off from the power of prayer. That was not a door for me to close for anyone or anything.

So, as I ran on the treadmill this morning I prayed for those friends of mine outside of the living water of the Gospel. If the Lord clearly tells me to not give up on a goldfish, I know He does not want me to give up on them!

I also prayed for forgiveness for not allowing my children to tap into the greatest power they possess…the power of prayer. I asked that my lesson to learn be mine alone, without Smokey or my children suffering.

And, so far, the Lord heard those prayers. Smokey is swimming with more strength and his fins are starting to open again. And my children have seen a miracle.

Great miracles and lessons often come in little packages.

Smokey, front and center, back in the tank where he belongs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Speaking in church? No problem, most just read.

I carry in my scriptures a quote from Spencer W. Kimball. It says, “The Savior has told us to feed his sheep. I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or meeting, and they then return home having been largely uniformed. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time they may be entering a period of stress, temptation, or crisis. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous enlistment work to get members to come to church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come.”

Pres. Kimball spoke this in the October 1980 conference. So important was this statement that he repeated it, verbatim, a second time in the October 1981 conference.

During another discourse, Spencer W. Kimball said that those who passed by the Good Samaritan and did nothing to help will be held partially accountable for the pain and suffering the man endured from the moment they could have helped and did not but, instead, chose to pass by.

Think about that story. Do you realize the Levite and the priest were on the same road as the wounded man? They were within reaching distance yet they chose to focus only on their own concerns and walk on by. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they were genuinely afraid. Whatever their reason, they did not trust Him to help them help another.

Now apply that to the calling to speak or teach. As speakers and teachers, we are standing on the same road as many members--some who may be spiritually wounded or malnourished. We may console ourselves by saying “I’m not a teacher” or “I’m terrified of speaking in public” but, no matter what our Levitical or priestly rationalization is, it is our duty to feed and care for His sheep! And, like the prophet said, I believe we will be held partially accountable for those members and investigators who go home unnourished if we did not adequately prepare to feed them while they were in our hands at Church.

And that is especially true with those in our classrooms or congregations who have come seeking spiritual uplift and light during a period of stress, temptation or crisis. We may not know who they are but in every class and in every congregation someone is crying out for Spiritual sustenance...sustenance we have been asked to give them that day.

It is our calling to prepare. It is their calling to come. They have done their job. They are there, waiting for us to feed them the message we have been asked to share with them. If there is a failure, it is usually on the part of the speaking or teaching shepherd, not the sheep. We must do better if we are going to change hearts and strengthen souls.

Now, I know not everyone is a public speaker but speaking or teaching in public is improved if we learn and apply this simple truth.

Do not read!

I tell my children they need to know their talks well enough that, if they are sitting on the stand and suddenly can’t find their notes they could still give the talk and do a good job. The same is true with each lesson. Know your material well enough that you could give it without the manual if you had to. That kind of preparation won’t happen by starting on Saturday night. You have to start preparing as soon as you are asked to teach or talk.

Yes, I know some weeks are hectic but, even then, preparation is essential and possible. During one hectic period of his life, my brother worked a job that required he leave the house between 7 and 8 in the morning. Often he did not get home from work until after 10 at night.

During that demanding time he was called to be an early morning seminary teacher. He had every right to turn it down but he did not. He chose to accept the Lord’s call and I learned a great truth because he did what he was asked to do.

The church was 40 minutes from their home. He had to get up at 4 a.m. each morning to be to seminary on time and have a bit of time to prepare. I asked his wife how he managed to find time to study a lesson each day with the demands of work. She said he often told her he was grateful he had spent time preparing his whole life through diligent scripture study and prayer. On days when he just did not have time, the Lord blessed him because he already had prepared…for years. Thankfully, my brother never read the lessons to the students as a cop-out. He taught them, with the Spirit, because he had spent a lifetime preparing.

When a speaker reads their talk, they are relying on the arm of flesh, called pen and paper, rather than on the Spirit to guide their words. True, they may have felt the Spirit guiding them as they wrote those things down but now they need to trust the Spirit, not the paper, to guide them as they share those thoughts and ideas.

More than once in the Book of Mormon the writers comment that the written word lacks the power of the spoken word. That is true in sacrament meeting talks and Sunday School lessons.

“When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.” (2 Nephi 33:1)

When reading must be done, keep the quotes and passages short. If they are long, select only the best or break it up into several short readings. Why? Because reading is what you do to put children to sleep at night! Do you think reading in Church causes a different reaction? No. If you read for longer than about a minute, people are sleeping.

Also, when we read our eyes are pointed downward. We cannot see the faces of those we teach and cannot read if they are being fed. We must see their faces to view their hearts!

Finally, we are not called to read in church, we are called to speak. We are not called to read in class, we are called to teach. There is a mighty difference.

Teachers and speakers will never know the power they can have until they learn to trust that Power and speak and teach, not read, from the heart.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It happened without me.

For years I have wanted to go to a writer's conference but, alas, timing, distance and money have all conspired to keep me away from those gatherings of verbiage and knowledge. Finally, however, I learned of a writer’s conference that would fit my schedule, my budget, and my travel constraints. So, I sent in my fees almost two months ago, reserved a spot at the conference, marked the date on my calendar, submitted my first chapter for critique, and waited.

This morning I arose bright and early and left the house shortly after 5:30 a.m. to make the three and a half hour drive to the much anticipated conference.

But this time a late spring blizzard was my conspirator and I managed to travel only 80 miles in two and a half hours.

Earlier this week I had a feeling I should not attend the conference. Now, traveling through a steep, unplowed mountain pass those feelings increased until I could not shake the impression that I should turn around. For miles I fought the impression, prayed for guidance and, finally, managed to bring the car to a stop in the deepening snow. But there I hesitated. I wanted to go to the conference!

Yet the impression would not leave and finally, very reluctantly, I followed the prompting and turned around.

Ten miles down the mountain my human side returned. I turned my car around and headed back toward the conference. After all, I really wanted to go. Besides, I’m a Montanan. I’m used to driving in snow storms. It’s what we do.

As I headed toward the conference the impression returned, stronger this time. If you go, it said, the trip will be dangerous for you. You need to be home today.

It took several miles before I listened to the prompting. Feeling sad about not going, I turned the car toward home again, consoling myself that it is never wrong to choose family over other things.

This time, though, I only made it about five miles down the road when I started arguing the prompting and justifying the trip. I’d paid a non-refundable fee. I had wanted to go to a conference for years and this one was close, relatively speaking.

So I stopped justifying and decided I was going to the conference--no arguing about it. I turned around again and headed back toward the conference when a powerful voice said, Terri, do not go. I will not tell you again.

Okay. That caught my attention and this time I turned back toward home, for good.

Yet I cried over the decision. I really, really wanted to go to the conference. Worse, I wasn’t sure the impressions had come from the Lord or my own subconscious. Because of that, I felt added frustration I may have chosen wrong.

Don’t you wish you could see into the future and know for sure if your decision was really the one He wanted you to make?

That is when I felt a whispering in my mind. On those times when we make a decision because we think, hope, we are following the Lord—He is still pleased.

Remember when your young child tried to please you by making breakfast? I bet you smiled warmly and gave that child a big hug even though the eggs were not cooked, the toast was burned, and orange juice had spilled on the counter and floor. Why? Because it was the sincere effort that pleased you, not the outcome.

And I realized this morning the Lord often feels that same way about us.

It's the effort to follow Him, not the outcome, that means so much to Him.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Save $$$ at the grocery store

Recently I received a call from a church leader. He wanted to know how I budget my groceries. As a leader, he is often called upon to counsel families and individuals who are struggling—spiritually, financially, emotionally. He knew we run a tight budget and wanted to know how I control things in the grocery store.

So how tight is our budget? I guess that depends on your perspective. We currently feed a family of seven on about $350 a month; and that is a very large increase from just a few years ago when all my children were home and we fed our family of eight on $150 a month.

Outside of a house payment, groceries are the second largest cost of living families encounter. Did you know that? While most bills are fixed and cannot be lowered by much, with a few tips families can dramatically reduce their grocery bill and free up needed money. If you want, or need, to ease your financial outgo look to your food bill first.

Don’t eat out. To take our family out for hamburgers and fries will cost us $40. I can feed my family for several days on that amount. Besides, my children would rather make their own hamburgers at home anyway. We can custom make our own burgers, just the way we want, for less than $10. With savings like that, we can even splurge on something extra--like ice cream. This doesn’t mean we don’t eat out occasionally but we keep it selective and special.

Plan a menu. Each month I sit down and plan out a menu for the entire month. It helps me know so I’m not tempted to resort to quick, more expensive solutions. First I first plan Sunday meals. Since those meals are generally a bit more costly I spread that cost into a second meal as I plan on how to use the leftovers. For example, if we have roast on Sunday, I may plan stew a few days later to use up leftover meat, gravy, and vegetables and I will write that on the menu: use leftovers. Besides adding leftover ingredients to soups or stews, I have learned to add leftover mashed potatoes—even cooked oatmeal--to a loaf of homemade bread or throw vegetables into a new stir-fry or pasta dish. Get creative!

Plan inexpensive meals. During the winter, I serve homemade soup once a week. During the summer, I try to have a meatless or salad night each week. A couple of times each month I schedule breakfast for dinner. Pancakes or homemade waffles are inexpensive and with some homemade chokecherry syrup or fresh fruit and whipped cream on top they produce a meal my family enjoys.

Shop to the menu. After I make my menu, I make my shopping list from my menu and then I take my list with me to the store. I do not deviate from my list very often and my children have learned the importance of shopping to that list and comparison checking for the lowest prices. Two of my children are already turning into price-savvy shoppers themselves and find it challenging to look for the best buy.

Use wisdom in the store. Never grab the first thing you see! The best buys are often way down low or up high. The expensive products are easy to reach. Look harder for the less expensive item.

Don’t buy the label. Buy the product.

Buy in bulk when possible.

Avoid convenient food. You also won’t find individual yogurt, applesauce cups, or pudding cups in my house. If I buy yogurt, applesauce, etc., I buy them in large containers the family can share. No individually-wrapped slices of cheese or small packages of expensive grated cheese, either. At a warehouse store I can buy five-pound blocks of cheese slices for only a few pennies more than a one-pound package of individually wrapped slices at a regular grocery store.

Avoid instant foods.
While in the store, a man and his daughter approached me looking for the rice. The inexpensive long-grain rice was right in front of us. “No,” he said, “My wife doesn’t know how to cook that kind.” So I looked and pointed him to the vastly more expensive instant rices. Again he said his wife didn’t know how to cook that. She had only cooked rice in a bag. At which point I couldn’t help him. I’d never picked up boil-in-the-bag rice in my life. He eventually found a package and left. After he left I looked at the price and felt horror. He was paying $4 a pound for the item. I loaded my forty-cent a pound rice in my bag and went home.

Decide about coupons. I used to clip coupons but not any more. Most coupons are for the most expensive brand out there so, unless I’m getting double coupon value, which my area does not offer, I can find generic versions cheaper. In areas that still offer double or triple coupon days or other coupon perks, it may be worth it. Compare prices and decide for your area. Also, be aware of the temptation of using coupons you don't need. Unless the item was originally on your list to buy, using a coupon will cost you money, not save it.

Stock up on good buys. This means you have to know your prices. When you see a good buy, stock up. This keeps you from being forced to buy the same item later, when the price may be high. You can just wait until the price comes back down.

Pay cash. This is the biggest budget controller there is! When you go into the store with $200 cash in your wallet, you can’t go over. It is too easy to add a few extra items to your cart when you are using a credit card, debit card, or writing a check. Cash doesn’t stretch. You have to. That is what makes it the best budget controller around. If I can’t afford it, I get it later. If I have to have it, I put something else back. It’s that simple.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

When the power goes out

Recently we spent two days without electricity as a wet, late winter blizzard blew through our area and downed power lines.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches us to be prepared for emergencies. If we are prepared we do not need to fear, as the scriptures tell us. Also, if we are prepared we can better reach out to help others. To that end, we had plenty of food and a wood burning stove for heat and cooking. We were able to call on neighbors (through a real telephone, not a cell phone) and make sure they had food and heat. We were also able to house three school children safely and warmly in our home until they could return to their own families.

During the storm I also learned some things to help me prepare for future emergencies. The Lord often does that…allows us opportunities to learn and makes necessary corrections before they are truly needed.

Here is what we learned...a lot is common knowledge, just remembered during a disaster.

Cell phones die because they can't be recharged. If you have a cell phone, keep it turned off unless you need it. If it is an emergency, it can be recharged in the car with a special adaptor.

Keep your car's gas tank as full as possible all the time. Gas pumps are electric and, when disaster strikes, gas pumps are some of the first things to shut down. That is also a problem if you have a generator. Once you run out of stored fuel at home you will not be able to get more.

Have cash on hand, in the house. When there is no power there are no banks, debit card machines, credit card machines, ATMs, etc. The few stores that stay open for a few hours hoping the electricity will come back on, go to a cash-only basis.

We also learned some surprising things.

Regular oven pans catch fire when used with a wood burning stove (embarrassed giggle). After the storm passed, one of the first things we bought was a small collection of cast-iron pots, pans and a cast-iron skillet for use during the next power outage. We also now own long-handled, all metal utensils. Luckily we had tin foil but I also bought some tin foil just for food storage. We discovered tin foil is great when there is no electricity. We used it to wrap up and heat frozen burritos in the fire (yum) and I was getting ready to make tin foil dinners next.

Fun is important. Children can get bored easily and start to whine or argue if you are not prepared. We pulled out puzzles and games, did crafts, read books out loud as a family, and even had fun cleaning ‘new’ places in the house. (We challenged them to find some nook or cranny they had not cleaned or organized before and they actually had fun cleaning for an hour or two.)

We also used wire hangers to cook hot dogs and make s’mores but we discovered wire hangers are hard to find and they are flimsy. We also now own a set of real hotdog forks we can use with our wood burning stove. Next on the list, we will also add a campfire popcorn popper just for more fun during future difficult times.

If you have children, don’t count on flashlights! Every single one of our “emergency” flashlights was dead or missing the batteries entirely. That, I have decided, is a reoccurring problem when families have small children. No matter where you hide them, the children will find your flashlights. So we pulled out the candles and used them in the evening for an hour or two.

The first day was fun. The second day was still fun but I began to worry about two things that surprised me: laundry and perishable foods.

Food. We tied the refrigerator shut to keep little kids from peeking inside looking for something to eat. Later we moved everything from our refrigerator into the chest freezer and that helped keep things cold or frozen and gave us more time. We were also mentally planning to shift some things outside to the cold blizzard but, luckily, that did not have to happen. Because we had been told we may be without electricity for several more days I was also mentally planning menus to use the most perishable foods first.

I have never spent much money on canned or instant meals like stew, chili, canned pastas, instant oatmeal, etc., but I learned a few of those added to food storage could be nice…with a hand can opener, of course.

Laundry. While I learned how to wash clothes by hand on my mission, I wasn’t looking forward to the cold water. When the electricty first went off I put a pot of hot water on the wood burning stove. That was nice since we were able to dip into the hot water for a variety of purposes.

Without hot water, there are no showers, either. That's when I made a mental note to add sanitary wipes to our storage plan. Paper plates and cups would also be a nice addition so you don't have to worry about using your limited hot water for washing dishes. They can also be added to the fire for fuel when finished.

For two days we had fun. We stayed together as a family. When the power finally came on most of the kids were disappointed. “Now we can’t do fun stuff anymore,” they lamented.

My oldest two, however, rushed to the computer and their cell phones—grateful to be back in the electrically charged world.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My kids are excited for "Superbowl" Conference

This weekend is a very special time for Latter-day Saints around the world. Known as “Conference Weekend,” members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend time during the weekend listening to the Lord’s chosen prophet, His 12 apostles, and other general authorities of the Church.

Conference happens twice a year, on the first weekend in April and the first weekend in October. This year "Conference Weekend" coincides with the celebration of Easter and I can think of no better way to spend it than listening to talks about the Savior, His life, love and example.

During conference the Lord's called and ordained leaders offer words of encouragement and counsel. Using the Spirit, scriptures, wisdom, personal stories, clarity, warmth and, even at times, humor they help lift us above the things of this world. Common topics include the Savior and His atoning sacrifice for us, how we can better keep the commandments, the need for repentance from weaknesses big and small, and how to remain hopeful in an increasingly darkening world.

While talking about the Lord’s plan for our salvation and happiness, they teach us about the sanctity of marriage and share ways we can build better, happier marriages. They offer parents hope and insight during the struggles of raising children. They talk of the importance of forgiving others, serving others, comforting others. You cannot listen to their talks without feeling the Savior’s love. Through that love you feel better about yourself and those around you. Suddenly life is easier, the way more clear, and Christ closer.

Despite the wonderful Spirit and eternal messages, though, teenagers and young children often struggle with listening to conference. For years we had to coax, encourage…at times require…that our children watch at least one session of conference over the weekend. Now all of our children eagerly gather in the room to watch and stay awake for almost all four sessions.

The difference?


My sister-in-law told us of something they did in their home. We tried it, and it worked. My children have named it “Superbowl Conference.”

Prior to each session we fill bowls with a variety of snacks. (We use different snacks at each session so they don’t get bored with the snacks.) I let the children label each bowl with a word they think we will hear during conference. They choose words such as repentance, Jesus, baptism, prayer and others. Then, during conference, if they want to take a snack they have to wait for the appropriate word.

It is fun to see everyone diving for a Holy Ghost chip or a scripture M&M. Some speakers will wipe out an entire supply of prayer grapes while others will send my family snacking through all the bowls. (Over the years we have learned to include healthy snacks as well, such as grapes, apple pieces, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, jerky, etc.)

Food really does help our family feast on the words of Christ!

The Church is also helping families with children keep them involved before, during and after conference. They have a new Web site filled with a variety of activities for all ages. There are coloring pages and games to print off and take with you. For fun at home there are also matching games on the computer, slideshows and videos, stories to listen to and ideas for things to make and do. If your children are Matt and Mandy fans they also have a section just for them.

The games are not just for conference but any time. Here is the link. Some of the games take a while to load, but they are a fun, entertaining ways to encourage them to listen and learn.

LDS Conference Games for Children

Thanks to modern technology, anyone can watch conference on television, by satellite, over the internet at (see link below), or get printed copies of the talks to read. If I counted right they can listen to conference in 67 different languages and get printed copies of it in just as many. Copies of past conference talks are also available and all of it is for free. For more information on the conference broadcasts, go to

LDS General Conference Page


Monday, March 22, 2010

Guillermo's cell phone

While in Peru in 2008, I met Guillermo—a young man with Down Syndrome--who visited with us like old friends. He showed us karate moves and told us of his talents and interests.

At one point during our visit a cell phone rang. Every American checked their pockets. Nope, it wasn’t any of their phones.

The call was for Guillermo. He had his own cell phone.

I was touched by the thought his parents had lovingly provided him with one so they could stay in touch as he grew and developed the freedom he needed. I was also amazed to find cell phones had become such a complete part of world society, even in a struggling country like Peru.

Have you ever thought about cell phones?

We spend a small fortune each month just for the privilege of carrying them around with us. If we forget them, we go back to the house to retrieve them.

Each night we carefully plug them in to make sure they are charged and ready to go the next day.

During the day we spend countless minutes--even hours--texting, calling and staying in touch with others. (Our monthly phone bill lets us know just how much time!)

And if we don’t want to be interrupted, we can turn off the phone simply by pushing a button.

Most of us don’t, though. We leave our cell phones on all day long. We send and receive calls, texts, photos, songs, videos and more. If our child at home takes those first steps while dad is at the office, he can still see that event thanks to the marvels of cell phone service.

Best of all, they are great for emergencies. If you break down or forget to bring your son’s shoes to a wrestling meet, just whip out the cell phone, punch a few buttons and help is on its way. (As long as you are in an area that has cell phone coverage.)

Cell phones are pretty cool.

Now, have you ever really thought about prayer?

Isn't it touching that our Heavenly Parents have provided us a way to stay in touch as we grow, develop and experience the freedom we need?

But He doesn't send us a monthly bill for the service. Prayer is free. You don’t have to spend any money to commune with God. If you leave the house in the morning and forget to pray, you don’t have to turn around, either. You can pray right where you are. And what if the whole world was as committed to carrying a prayer with them when they left their house in the morning as they are their cell phones!?

At night, what if we carefully made sure we were plugged into Heaven through personal prayer to recharge our souls so we would be ready for the next day?

Do we spend more time texting and chatting with friends during the day than we do with the Lord? Sadly, I think that answer for most of us is yes. But what if we changed that? What if we spent more time during the day thinking of God and communing with Him while we drove down the road or as we took a break from work?

And what if we never turned off our spiritual phone?

Think of all the texts, calls, messages, thoughts, impressions and spiritual moments He could send to you each day? See that beautiful flower or a child's smile? God sent it to you to tell you He loves you and is thinking of you.

And what if, every time we saw a beautiful flower or something wonderful, new or exciting happened to us during the day, we immediately thought to call God in a prayer of gratitude? Or what if we called in prayer just to visit or share with Him moments from our day?

We can even have Him on speed dial!

Best of all, we don’t need cell phone coverage to call for Divine help. We can call on Him anytime, anywhere and He will hear.

Prayer is pretty cool. Wouldn't it be neat if it became as much of a valued part of world society as cell phones?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did Judah sin with Tamar?

"Hollywood doesn’t need a script, they just need the Bible," someone joked in Sunday School.

The entire class laughed. After all, we were going through the lesson of Joseph--who was sold into Egypt by his own brothers--and our 21st century Anglo-Saxon tour bus was taking some interesting side-trips into the lives of those siblings.

But to judge the people of the Bible by our own society is unfair…to them and us.

Take, for example, the story of Judah. Judah married a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites were descended from Canaan, who was the son of Ham, Noah’s son. Remember, Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren…Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant” (Gen. 9:25-26) That was not just a statement but a divine promise and prophecy! Through Shem would come the blessed lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and eventually, Jesus.

So why did Judah marry a Canaanite? Jewish scripture records that Judah’s brothers were angry with Judah for influencing them to sell Joseph. "You told us to sell him. Had you told us to return him to our father we also would have listened to you." (Exodus Raba, 42,3)

So, Judah sought refuge with his friend, Hirah, in Adullam and--as the Jewish sages point out--the sale of Joseph resulted in the loss of two brothers not just one. And “Judah went down from his brothers and turned away towards an Adullamite man whose name was Hirah.” (Genesis 38:1) (Later King David would also flee to Adullam and hide from his own enemies in the protective hills and caves there.)

While there, Judah married the Canaanite woman. Maybe, after what he did to Joseph, he felt he had lost the right of fathering the promised line, we don’t know--but we do know this…the Lord grants forgiveness and you can’t run from the Lord. The story of Judah and Tamar is a story of forgiveness and returning to the Lord's path.

Still trying to avoid that divine path himself, Judah married his son to a righteous woman, Tamar. In fact, the Jews tell us she had been prophetically told she would be the one to fulfill the promise and bear great kings and leaders through Judah's family. She married into the correct family yet, with Canaanite blood flowing through their veins, Judah’s sons could not produce that blessed lineage!

After Er and Onan were taken out of the picture, Judah told Tamar to wait for his youngest son to grow old enough to marry her. But we know those prophesied kings and leaders could not come from Judah’s Canaanite sons, no matter how hard Judah tried to change or avoid that calling! The responsibility lay with Judah, himself!

Tamar knew that, too.

Ancient marriages were not unions of couples but unions of family! If a husband died, another man from the same family was expected to complete any unfulfilled marriage promises made to the bride and her family--including the producing of heirs. (Later it was designated that an unwed brother would fulfill that calling but, at the time of Judah, any male in the family could accept the responsiblity.)

So the Lord made Judah a widower, hoping to nudge him toward providing the completion of marriage vows for Tamar and produce the promised heirs through the promised lineage. Still Judah tried to avoid the call and left the area.

His plan didn't work. (Our own plans, separate from the Lord's, rarely do.)

When Judah saw a veiled Tamar, not knowing her true identity and living beneath his own worth, he asked to sleep with her and promised to pay her a goat, giving her his signet, bracelets and staff as tokens of that promise. She, knowing her legal right and legal and divine claim on Judah, agreed and conceived.

Later, when Judah discovered that Tamar was pregnant, he grew furious. Afterall, he had not married her to his youngest son! Believing she had been unfaithful he sent for her, ordering her legal execution. (He had to send for her because he had still been avoiding her. We often do that. We avoid people when we try to avoid the Lord.)

When she arrived she spoke to Judah and showed him the signet, bracelets and staff. At that moment Judah realized two things: he was the legal father and Tamar did not sin! Despite the fact that Tamar had been veiled, no marriage laws had been broken. That is why he halted her execution and said “She hath been more righteous than I.”

As the patriarch of the family Judah was legally bound to provide the blessings of marriage to Tamar, either through his sons or himself. As the man of promised lineage, Judah, never his sons, was the one divinely established by the Lord to provide her with the promised heirs. And so it was that through their son, Pharez, came the prophesied royal lineage of King David and, later, the Messiah.

It is interesting to note that this event seemed to be an awakening for Judah. He understood he could no longer run from his responsibilities or his divine worth and he returned to his family. Still later, Judah offered himself as surety for Benjamin in order to save the entire family from famine. Judah, once cast out, now understood the importance of his family. Now, as a strong protector of that family, he stood forth to take the blame and face the consequences personally if anything happened to his younger brother.

So the story is about repentance and real change and restitution and it has lessons for us all.

Maybe Hollywood really does need the Bible.

To learn more about this story, see More on Tamar

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saving the World's Grumpiest Cockatiel

Twelve years ago our family welcomed a newly hatched cockatiel into our home. We were all excited to raise the hand-fed pet. We had visions of him sitting on our shoulders and being our feathered companion.

But the reality is very different. Crackers does not speak a word. He will ride on our shoulders and is finger trained, though he will most often bite those fingers. He does dance to certain songs but only if he is in the mood. Occasionally he falls out of bed in the middle of the night. (That means he falls off his perch then squawks in anger, flapping around on the bottom of the cage until someone comes and turns on the light so he can see to climb back up.) He also loves to taunt our poor dog who, obviously, has a lot of bird dog in his lineage and looks at us in confusion as if asking our permission to follow instinct and swallow the bird whole.

Despite all of our efforts to befriend Crackers and care for him, he has only bonded with one member of our family—my teenage son. As soon as that son walks by Crackers starts to whistle and sing until our son comes and holds him. The bird absolutely adores him.

The other night I moved down the dark hallway, intent on placing a backpack in the closet next to the bird’s cage. I knew where I was and felt I did not need the light; but a split second of counsel flashed in my mind. “Turn on the light so the bird is not startled.”

The thought did not make 'sense' to me. Afterall, I walk by his cage all the time in the dark. I ignored the counsel and walked into the dark room with a noisy backpack. Crackers, deep asleep on his perch, let out a squawk of fear and erupted into panic.

Hearing the chaotic flapping of wings and horrid screeching from the bird I turned on the light only to see the bird now stuck between the bars of the cage, his body halfway out of the cage, his wings twisted around and caught between the bars in a way that both amazed and shocked me. How did he manage that? He has never fit through the bars before.

Angered and scared, the bird fought to get free. I worried he would break a wing in his attempts and quickly moved to help him.

Now, you must understand that Crackers tolerates me because I feed and water him. Tonight, though, he was not in a tolerant mood. When I placed my hands around his tiny body to carefully fold back his wings and release them he turned his head and bit my finger hard enough to draw blood. He had never done that before and I knew there was only one person he wanted--only one he would relax for--and that was my son.

My son came upstairs and, with the help of his father, freed the cockatiel with only a few ruffled feathers. Then my son spent the next hour and a half petting and calming the bird before returning him to his cage.

The success of my son in freeing Crackers made sense to me. What surprised me was the split second of counsel and inspiration the Lord gave me before it all happened. He told me what to do because He wanted to protect the world’s grumpiest cockatiel!

It has made me reflect on the comment made the Savior. When speaking of captive sparrows he said, “Not one of them is forgotten before God…Fear not, therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7, also Matt. 10:29-31).

If God would send a moment of inspiration to prevent undue stress to an ornery cockatiel, it is because sending inspiration and giving revelation is what He does! He wants to protect and guide us in all aspects of our lives, even with the smallest of things.

I wonder how many times He does actually inspire us and we don't listen, or we choose to ignore it because it is so small? If we don't respond to His small counsels, why would He want to trust us with the bigger inspirations?

The night Crackers got stuck I chose to ignore His seemingly "small" inspiration and continued working in the dark. It didn't turn out very well.

I have decided there is a lesson in that, too.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sarah and Hagar

What happened between Sarah and Hagar? Were they a couple of jealous, fickle, manipulative women who wound up being married to the same man?

No. Abraham wasn't stupid.

Let us remember that they were both righteous women who did whatever the Lord requested. And Abraham was blessed by their presence in his life.

So who was Sarah? The Jews hold up Sarah as a woman worthy of Abraham. The Midrash says she was a blonde beauty and her intelligence, wisdom, compassion and gentle spirit amazed all who knew her. Additional records tell us she was spiritual, devoted to God and her husband, and full of truth—preaching the gospel to the women while Abraham taught the men.

Isaiah, Peter and Paul all hold up Sarah as an example of a righteous, faithful woman. (See Isaiah 51:1-3, Heb. 11:11 and 1 Pter 3:5-6.) Even the Lord tells Abraham to "hearken" unto the voice of his wife when making a difficult decision (Gen. 21:12).

And who was Hagar? Many records tells us that Hagar was not just any slave given to Sarah by the Pharaoh but, rather, his very daughter. Hagar was true royalty--a princess in the eyes of the world. Some accounts state that the Pharaoh gave Sarah his daughter so Hagar could learn the doctrines which Abraham and Sarah knew and taught.

Think about that for a moment. Sarah knew of divine birth. Hagar knew of royal birth.

So, an earthly princess appears on the scene. She goes from palaces to pasturelands...and she does it remarkably well. In fact, the Lord said Hagar helped fulfill "among other things, the promises" (D&C 132:34).

Hagar served as Sarah’s handmaid for ten years before Sarah made the decision to give her to Abraham as a maid-wife. Law stated a covenant wife could do that—she could give her maid to her husband for the purposes of childbearing. So, that is what Sarah did.

Now, we can be sure Sarah had more than one servant. So why did she select Hagar? Because she deeply and truly loved Hagar.

Think about that for a moment. You certainly wouldn't send your enemy into your husband's bed. If asked to make that difficult decision you would send the woman you loved and trusted with all your heart!

Earthly law saw Hagar as a maid-wife. Hagar could not receive a legal inheritance nor stand in equal position with the covenant wife. As a maid-wife, Hagar would always be a maid first, a wife second. Her children would also be of a lower status in the eyes of the law. Yet Hagar--who was still learning the gospel--must have thought the eternal promises made to Abraham would now be hers...shifting from Sarah to Hagar so that she would be the 'covenant' wife.

But eternal families require more than just conceiving and delivering a child and Sarah, Abraham, and the Lord knew that. Hagar had just been legally wed, not eternally sealed to Abraham.

Sometimes the truth hurts. It can feel like someone has dealt "hardly" with us, which is how Hagar felt. But you can never run from the truth, even if you don't like it. It will find you and the Lord did find Hagar in the wilderness.

Despite being new to gospel understanding, Hagar was righteous and worthy enough to receive a visit from an angel—not once, but twice. In the first visit the angel told her to return and submit to Sarah—not Abraham. Why? So she could learn, from another woman, what she needed to know to be a righteous and virtuous wife in the eyes of the Lord--one worthy of receiving promised blessings from the Lord. Then the angel told her of those promises and Hagar knew He held great blessings in store for her, too.

So Hagar did as the Lord requested. She returned and learned how to submit to righteousness. And righteousness always involves loves. Sarah, we know, was a compassionate, righteous and loving woman. So was Hagar. Josephus also tells us that when Ishmael was born Sarah loved him as her own. She raised Ishmael and educated him and, even when Sarah later gave birth to Isaac, her love for Ishmael was “not inferior to that of her own son.”

So why did Sarah cast out Hagar and Ishmael after Isaac was weaned? Was she truly upset because a 13-year-old, that records tell us she loved equally to her own son, was making inappropriate comments?

Please, give the woman more credit that that. Sarah had lived 100 years. She knew the weakness of teenage words.

Many scholars believe that Sarah released Hagar and her son precisely because she loved them. She granted them the only thing she could by law: their freedom. Sarah could not leave Hagar and Ishmael an inheritance—the law forbid it. Hagar, the woman she loved enough to share with her husband, and Ishmael--the son she loved equal to her own son--were slaves. She did not want them to live that way or die that way, so she gave them their freedom.

Jewish accounts tell us that was not the end of their relationship. Abraham and Sarah watched over Ishmael and Hagar, and Hagar remained true to her vows. Later, Jewish records tell us Hagar changed her name to Keturah and this time, as a free woman, became a full and equal wife to Abraham, becoming the mother of a multitude through the only man she ever married. We see the name change as symbolizing her acceptance of the gospel and entrance into the Abrahamic Covenant.

These two women, Hagar and Sarah, were chosen by God to become the mothers of multitudes. They were not perfect--that we know. But we must also know that they were not jealous, controlling, manipulative women. They learned to love and respect the other and do what the Lord asked of them.

They were not rivals. They were sisters.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Scriptures from the heart

Walking down the hall at Church yesterday I noticed a brown, leather-bound Book of Mormon lying facedown on a shelf. Immediately I stopped my trek, took a step back to view the face-down book and said out loud, “that looks like my old Book of Mormon.”

By old, I mean really old…the one I took on my mission 27 years ago.

I picked up the book, turned it over and, sure enough, there was my missionary name embossed on the cover: Terri L. Christensen. (See photo in blog.)

Now this isn’t a story about an amazing discovery of a favorite set of scriptures that had been lost for decades miraculously showing up on a shelf in a church building several moves and years later (although I know that has happened to people).

Nope. My missionary scriptures had not been lost and sought for years. In fact, I didn’t even know they were at church. I thought they were safely at home, sitting in my office.

Nonetheless, as I lifted that very special book and saw my name on the cover I felt chills envelope me and tears come to my eyes. Why?

Because the amazing part of the story is this: I knew my scriptures. Walking by that shelf, seeing only the back cover of an old Book of Mormon, I instantly recognized it as the back cover of my Book of Mormon. I knew every mark, every flaw, every scuff and faded rub on that book; and when I saw only the back cover on a shelf (while focused on keeping track of my youngest child), I instantly stopped in recognition. I could not walk by it with out retrieving my scriptures and taking the book home with me, where it belongs.

Even though that old missionary Book of Mormon has been 'released' from daily service for years, and I use a different set of well-worn scriptures, that precious book was still part of my heart and I knew it in a heartbeat.

Brothers and Sisters, do you know your scriptures so well that they call to you from a passing shelf? Can you identify them because they have well-worn pages and you have placed every sign of wear on them, or do you have to check the name on the cover?

If you have to check the name on the cover I suggest you open those sacred books even more until your name and your heart are engraved on the inside and on every one of those pages. Then you will come to understand the sacred union, and joy, I felt yesterday as I lifted my old scriptures from a shelf.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Son's Ox

My son purposely rode his ox into the mire today. Then, when he realized his ox was stuck, he got upset and vowed to leave it there.

It wasn’t his fault, he defended, someone else made him ride his ox into the mire. The other person needed to solve the situation and get the ox out of the mud, not him.

But I tell my children all the time--"solve the problem yourself.” Do not expect others to fix life for you.

My husband and I both talked to our son. We told him he had a responsibility to solve the problem. We let him know we knew the situation was hard and his feelings were understandable, yet he needed to put his own personal opinions aside and work to get that ox out of the mire.

As most very upset teenagers do, he didn’t like what we said. He dug his heels deeper into the mud, saying he would not do anything to fix the problem.

But I knew he would. He is a good kid with a heart of gold. He doesn’t like problems in his life and he will do even difficult things to fix problems. He just needed some time to process our counsel.

Sure enough, a few minutes later he came to me and said he would try to fix the problem but he wasn’t happy about it. Nor was he hopeful he could get it fixed in time. You see, there was also a deadline involved.

Nevertheless, he took a deep breath, sucked up his courage, and waded into the mud.

I watched my teenager start the task of digging his ox out of the mire. I knew his time to solve the problem was very limited and he would fail if left alone. I also knew how hard it was for him to even do the task, so I joined him. I got right down in the mud with him and, together, we worked and labored and dug his ox out of the mire.

Then he went, on his own, to face the adult he did not get along with and present him with the unstuck ox.

I was very proud of him. People may say he drove is own ox into the mire—that it was all his fault. But my memories will always be of him digging deep within himself and working extremely hard to resolve a very unpleasant situation.

My son purposely rode his own ox out of the mire today.

He is becoming a very good man.

You married who??!!!

How well I remember the phone call my husband received. His sister called to tell him the big news: she was engaged.

She then enthusiastically told him of every quality her future husband possessed. My husband hardly spoke at all.

After the phone call I asked my sweetheart, “So, how is he?”

“Apparently perfect.”

Smiling with knowledge I said, “Ask her if she still thinks he’s perfect 20 years from now.”

We both laughed over that one.

It has been said we should enter marriage with our eyes wide open and after marriage keep them half shut.

All too often the opposite happens. Because of giddy romance we don’t see clearly before marriage and after marriage our eyes fly open wide—in horror! We can’t believe we married that!!

Well, prior to my marriage I vowed I would find the perfect husband. I spent hours of teenage time creating lists of attributes he would have to have for me to love him for eternity. My list varied over time but the first five qualities were always the same: tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, love spaghetti, want to live in Arizona.

So, how did I do?

We live in Montana and I also struck out on the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed pseudo Italian part. In fact, I can safely say that spaghetti is far down on his list of favorite meals.

But you know what? He eats it anyway! And there are times, when things are hectic at home, he actually suggests it for dinner--and even helps me make it! How can you not love a man like that? What I originally thought was a ‘weakness’ has endeared him to me more than if he loved spaghetti!

"I will make weak things become strong unto them," promised the Lord. (Ether 12:27)

We don’t need perfect spouses. (In fact, none of us have them.) But marriage isn’t about marrying perfect, it is about becoming perfect.

We must make the choice to keep our eyes wide open after marriage—in appreciation. We can and should see the sacrifices and small gestures of devotion that surround us…both spoken and unspoken. And then we should verbally express gratitude for them.

A friend and college professor said something very wise. “I find that when I remember to praise my students and point out their gifts and make assignments clear, their work improves as they try to meet that standard. Criticism never seems to bring improvement, although it is easier to give and seems so necessary. It also crushes the spirit.”

He is so right. Good feelings escalate and enlarge. Criticism defeats and deflates their spirit…not just in the classroom but in life.

Mostly, though, criticism crushes us.

“He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil and have that which is evil restored unto you.” (Helaman 14:31)

When we do something good for our spouses--when we praise them and point out their special gifts--our marriage improves, positive feelings and works escalate, and the Spirit returns.

It’s a promise and eternal principle from God--

“For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored.” Alma 41:15

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My book is finally released

It was a delight to receive my book in the mail. Entitled Tombs of Terror, the book takes place in Peru and is based on fact. It is geared toward young adults, especially young men, but other readers have also enjoyed it.

Here is what the back cover says:

"When Jonathon Bradford reluctantly accompanies his father on a research trip to Peru, all he can think about is going home. In the majestic ancient city of Machu Picchu, Jonathon hears the legend of the Inca people--how an entire civilization vanished in a single night, hiding their gold and sacred mummies in secret caverns carved deep in the Andes Mountains.

But when Jonathon loses his way in the mountain tunnels, he finds himself battling to survive lethal traps, starvation, and his own fear in order to discover the shocking truth behind the legend--a truth that lands him in the custody of Severino, a reckless Peruvian teen obsessed with avenging his father's death and protecting his sister, no matter the cost.

Tombs of Terror is the gripping tale of how Jonathon must prove his bravery and loyalty as he is catapulted into an epic struggle between greed and honor, all while holding the precarious fate of an entire civilization in his hands."

The story is something I would want my own children to read. I have kept it clean but also fast-moving. It whispers at the importance of family while blending fact with fiction. It also introduces the reader to the rich heritage of Peru and brings them into the ancient Inca culture.

If you would like to read the book you can order it from your nearest bookstore. The title is Tombs of Terror, by T. Lynn Adams. And, if some bookstore clerk should ask, the ISBN number is 978-1-59955-326-9.

Oh, for every book you order, the bookstore will also order in extras to sell to other customers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A visit to Peru

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matt. 25:40

I received a fun surprise in my inbox today, a link to Project Pirca: Un Obra de Amor.

This humanitarian project is the brainchild…or should I say the heartchild…of the Elmer family in Texas. The Elmers felt the desire to help others and have been assisting in the remote Peruvian village of Pirca for several years.

Pirca is the oldest known Andean village and has been inhabited since the time of the Incas. The people have very few worldly comforts but they are generous, happy and giving.

I served my mission to Peru from 1983-1984. In 2008 I was blessed to accompany my brother's family and the Elmers to Pirca. The mountain weather was brisk, the air at that altitude was thin, but the experience was unforgettable. How I would love to go back. Peru truly is my second home.

Viewing the beautiful photos on this blog site warmed my heart. How I loved seeing those familiar faces again, and what they are accomplishing together as a village. The people are hard-working and only need a little help to accomplish great things.

If you are interested in helping the Elmers expand their service to the wonderful people of Andean Peru, please contact them through their Web site. It doesn't take much money to donate a pound of flour or a warm blanket.

I hope you enjoy this visit to Pirca. Project Pirca

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Love and laughter are the music of home

I have often said that the sweetest sound I hear is the sound of my children laughing together and enjoying each other. How grateful I am that we hear that sound often in our home.

However, when they do argue or spit out insulting words at one another, a spirit changes inside of the home and something inside of me grows grey and aches. It is a sorrow I cannot explain but it is a feeling I know Heavenly Father understands, personally.

In Moses 7 Enoch beheld the heavens and the earth. He saw generation upon generation and he beheld Satan and his angels rejoicing at the darkness upon the earth.

Then he was blessed to see righteous “angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell upon many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.”

Then, after this marvelous sight Enoch records “that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people and he wept.

“And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations.”

Then Enoch points out the wonderful things the Lord has done: He is always there for us, He has taken Zion to his own bosom and “naught but peace, justice and truth is the habitation of thy throne…how is it thou canst weep?

Then God, the ever-loving and involved Father replies, “these thy brethren, they are the workmanship of mine own hands and I gave unto them their knowledge…(and) agency…And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another and that they should choose me, their Father…but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.”

He saw His children hating each other, bickering, arguing, not getting along...and worse.

And because they could not get along, He saw someting more--“misery shall be their doom...wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”

He did not want them to suffer because they could not love each other and get along. He felt concern for their future.

Then, when Enoch saw that the Lord’s plan, when he understood the depth of love--and of the sorrow--the Lord felt, and comprehended the sacrifice He and his Only Begotten were willing to make so His children would better understand love, “Enoch knew..and wept, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.”

God doesn’t just want us to learn to share the toys. He wants us to learn to share the world and He weeps when we cannot do so simple a thing as love one another. He weeps because He knows if we can't share and love each other here, we won't be able to there.

Why? Because we won't make into Heaven. "that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world." (Alma 34:34)

Heaven is for families who love each other and for people who love all mankind.

How I love to hear the music of good, righteous laughter; of loving families enjoying each other; of strangers loving and helping strangers. It lifts home--and the entire world--a little closer to Heaven.